1 French Open men's semifinalist not like the others: Murray

1 French Open men's semifinalist not like the others: Murray

Updated Mar. 4, 2020 5:26 p.m. ET

PARIS (AP) Rafael Nadal arrived at the French Open having won 17 of 18 clay-court matches this season. He also happens to be a nine-time champion at Roland Garros.

His opponent in Friday's semifinals, Dominic Thiem, entered the year's second Grand Slam tournament with some success on the surface, too, reaching a pair of finals and handing Nadal that lone loss.

Stan Wawrinka, the 2015 champion and another semifinalist this year, was coming off a clay title at the Geneva Open the week before play began in Paris.

And what about Andy Murray, who meets Wawrinka on Friday in a rematch of the 2016 French Open semifinals?


''I came in playing garbage,'' Murray said with a smile. ''You know, I'm the odd one out in the semis.''

It's true. In his last clay tuneup before arriving in Paris, Murray lost his first match at the Italian Open. Before that, he bowed out in the third round at both Monte Carlo and Madrid.

Take it back further and add in hard courts: Murray was only 16-7 all season entering Roland Garros.

Hardly the sort of record befitting someone ranked No. 1 thanks to quite a string of successes a year ago, including a Wimbledon championship, an unprecedented second consecutive Olympic gold medal and runner-up finishes at the Australian Open and French Open.

And while Murray has been playing better and better over the past two weeks, shaking off a cold and finding his form, he has not been quite as good as the trio of others still around. Murray has dropped a total of three sets through five matches; Wawrinka, Nadal and Thiem have won every set they've played so far.

''They are all obviously playing extremely well,'' Murray said. ''Rafa's had a great clay-court season, as has Thiem. Stan, this tournament, has played great. Won in Geneva, so is obviously confident.''

Here is a look at the two French Open men's semifinals:


This pits a pair of players with three Grand Slam titles apiece. Murray leads their head-to-head series 10-7, including a four-set victory in last year's French Open semifinals.

''He was pushing me all the time, so was tough for me to find any solution,'' recalled the 32-year-old Wawrinka, the oldest man to reach the semifinals in Paris since Jimmy Connors in 1985.

They can produce terrific exchanges, with Wawrinka ripping his spectacular one-handed backhand and Murray using his tremendous court coverage and defense to extend rallies. Contrasting the way Murray played in 2016 to his level of late, Wawrinka said: ''He's probably a bit less confident. He's a bit more hesitant. Hopefully I can take advantage of that.''


Nadal is bidding for a 10th French Open title, more than anyone has won at a single Grand Slam tournament in the Open era, and a 15th major overall, which would break a tie with Pete Sampras for second most for a man behind Roger Federer's 18. And after a trying 2016, Nadal has been up to his old tricks, especially on clay.

''He is recovered, mentally and physically,'' said Nadal's uncle Toni, who is coaching him along with 1998 French Open champion Carlos Moya. ''He is so much better.''

Nadal has dropped only 22 games through five matches, his lowest total on the way to the semifinals at any major, getting to every ball and whipping that heavy-topspin forehand.

''I mean, it's one of the best shots, I think, ever in tennis,'' Thiem said. ''So, anyway, you cannot avoid it all the time. I will concede some winners.''

Thiem, also a semifinalist at Roland Garros last year, is coming off a straight-set upset of defending champion Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals. And although Nadal owns a 4-2 lead in their past matchups, Thiem did win the most recent one, on clay last month at the Italian Open.

After getting roughed up by Thiem, including 6-0 in the third set, Djokovic called the 23-year-old ''one of the up-and-coming, rising stars that, of course, is very hungry to beat you and to get his hands on a Grand Slam trophy. He's got a really good chance.''


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